These glaciers are on track to disappear within the next 30 years, new report shows.
For more than 30 years, an ongoing melt of one of the world’s largest ice sheets has been one of the major threats to the planet, triggering global sea level rises and a spike in extreme precipitation events.
Now, researchers have found that a similar shift in the balance of forces could be poised to affect every continent on land.
A new study released Friday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that the Antarctic ice sheet has already begun to slide into the sea — and possibly the whole continent — by the end of the 2040s.
“The idea for this analysis was that we have to get rid of our models,” said study lead author Michael Robinson of the University of California, Irvine’s Institute of Soil Science. “We needed to make a new model, and we needed to do it fast.”
The new, 3- to 4-year-long study, detailed in the journal Science Advances, uses computer modeling and is the first to combine Antarctic ice sheet models with ice sheet flow simulations.
Scientists have long worried about what a changing equilibrium of ice sheets with sea levels might mean for coastal regions, coastal cities and the global economy.
“From the standpoint of coastal infrastructure alone, the impact of a large Antarctic ice sheet loss is enormous,” Robinson said. “It means lost coastline, potentially an increase in storm surge, reduced flood protection, and more storm damage from high wind.
“A loss of the Antarctic would have huge ramifications for the entire planet.”
The new research — which combined 3 decades of Antarctic ice sheet observations, computer models of sea level and sea ice retreat, and glacier and ice sheet dynamics models — provides a unique picture for the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The study found that the Antarctic ice sheet has already begun to slide into the sea — and possibly the whole continent — by the end of the second decade of the 21st century, with a projected loss between 2017 and 2021.
The finding is particularly troubling because it suggests a tipping point is approaching between ice sheet stability and human-induced sea level rise.
“This is the tipping point we have to be aware of,” Robinson said. “The last time that happened, there was a major civilization collapse. In this case, if